NH lawmaker says education choice is only for 'well-educated' parents

shutterstock 102281296 New Hampshire state capitol, Concord. | Joseph Sohm/Shutterstock

A state senator in New Hampshire has drawn criticism for saying that working-class parents should not have the same freedom to make educational choices for their children as college-educated parents. 

"This idea of parental choice, that's great if the parent is well-educated. There are some families that's perfect for. But to make it available to everyone? No. I think you're asking for a huge amount of trouble," said Sen. Jeanne Dietsch (D-Peterborough) on Tuesday, June 9. Her comments were reported by InsideSources

Dietsch was speaking at an education committee hearing in favor of a bill that would repeal a statewide alternative schooling program, called Learn Everywhere. 

Learn Everywhere is a program that permits students to earn course credit "through hands-on, real-world experience" including jobs and apprenticeships outside of a classroom. 

The bill SB 514, which is sponsored by Dietsch, would require the state's board of education "to establish a process for the approval of vendors offering alternative, extended learning, and work-based programs which may be accepted for credit by a local school board."

Dietsch explained that as her father had not graduated from high school, it was important to him that she attend college, and that he would not have been helpful in picking out coursework. 

'When it gets into the details, would my father have known what courses I should be taking? I don't think so," she said. 

Dietsch explained that she did not think some parents were qualified to make decisions for their children that extended beyond their own level of attainment. 

"If the dad's a carpenter, and you want to become a carpenter," she said "then yes - listen to your dad."

"In a democracy, and particularly in the United States, public education has been the means for people to move up to greater opportunities, for each generation to be able to succeed more than their parents have," said Dietsch. 

George D'Orazio, a senior board member of Catholics United For Home Education-New Hampshire, told CNA that the educational status of a parent does not factor when making medical or financial decisions for a child, and it should not matter in educational decisions either.

"CUHE utterly rejects the concept that only certain parents should have choice in education," said D'Orazio. 

D'Orazio said that he believed Dietsch's party affiliation shaped her comments on Tuesday, and that New Hampshire as a whole has typically been very friendly to homeschooling and alternative schooling choices.

"The current governor, who is a Republican, has worked hard to try to increase educational choices available to parents," he said. "The current education commissioner (in the state of New Hampshire) has worked very hard to increase parental choice in education," he said. 

"And they're being criticized, thoroughly criticized (...) by the leaders of the Democratic Party for this." 

Other experts and commentators in favor of school choice and parental rights were similarly critical of the senator's comments. 

"Parents have the right, and duty, to make decisions about their child's education - simply because they are parents," Mary Rice Hasson, director of the Catholic Women's Forum, told CNA. 

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"The Church teaches that parents are the primary educators of their children-- regardless of the parents' education level. There's no asterisk that says a college degree or PhD is required. Parents fulfill this responsibility out of love, with an eye towards the deepest needs of the child, spiritual as well as intellectual formation," she added. 

"Opposition to educational freedom is often rooted in the paternalistic belief that disadvantaged families aren't capable of making good choices for their own children," Corey DeAngelis, the director of school choice at Reason Foundation, told CNA. 

"But that's wrong--families are more likely to know what's best for their own children than bureaucrats," he added. 

Dietsch's chosen example of carpenters as professionals unable to make informed choices for their children's education also drew a backlash from local business owners. 

"With all due respect to the senator, I am a carpenter, and the idea that she, or any other government official, knows what's best for me or any member of my family is preposterous," Tim Hawes, owner of Perfection In Restoration in Candia, New Hampshire told NHJournal. 

"I may not have a degree, but I can guarantee that when it comes to decisions regarding my family's interest I am far more educated and capable than any government official will ever be," Hawes said.

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